Monthly Archives: November 2019

BWS 13.11.19 Special Guest: Maria Meindl

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Maria Meindl is the author of The WorkStonehouse Publishing (2019). Her first book, Outside the Box from McGill-Queen’s University Press, won the Alison Prentice Award for Women’s History. Her essays, fiction and poetry have appeared in many publications including The Literary Review of CanadaDescant and Musicworks, as well as in the anthologies, At the End of Life: True Stories About How We Die and The M Word: Conversations About Motherhood. She has made two radio series for CBC Ideas. In 2005, Maria founded the Draft Reading Series which specializes in unpublished work by emerging and established writers. She teaches movement in Toronto and is at work on two sequels to The Work, as well as a book-length memoir.

 

As the surprise guest speaker at our 10th anniversary event on November 13th, Maria gave her first Toronto reading of the her novel The Work. Here she writes a detailed account about how her novel came to be.

Wasting time on The Worka blog entry in which I talk myself out of a curmudgeonly mood

My surprise reading at Brockton was the first time I’d shared my first novel, The Work, with an audience in Toronto. And the experience held a few surprises for me, too.

When it came time to getting dressed for the event, I agonized. What does a surprise guest wear? Something warm enough for a gross, lateautumn evening in Toronto, of course.

Okay. Okay. It wasn’t about the clothes. I had to admit, I wanted to stay home.

After over a decade of working on The Work it seems surreal that the book is finally coming out. I worked on it in the early mornings, and it became a companion, as dependable and delightful as my first coffee of the day. Through years of drafts, I came to believe it would always be there, in endlessly tweakable, manuscript form.

But those days are gone. It’s time to set The Work free.

Expressing doubts about a book I’m launching in a week and a half feels like the worst possible idea – disingenuous at best; at worst, self-defeating, ungrateful, insecure, and just plain sour.

But I still wonder if The Work works. With all the years I took to write it, with all the help I had, it should be a better book. And so much has changed since the idea was conceived. Do my attempts to keep it relevant – for myself, for othersread like afterthoughts?

Most of all … it’s a work of imagination, and this scares me. The imagination has a life of its own. I am no apologist for those writers who make inspiration an excuse for all kinds of narrative crimes, but I do know that parts of my personality I might otherwise disavow might surface in fiction. Where memoir feels like roll-up-my-sleeves, ever-in-control, work-womanly task (in the best way), a novel has the potential of showing my blind spots.

Where do these thoughts belong, on the eve of a book launch? There are lots of good reasons to keep them private. Or banish them altogether. Still, I have found myself spilling my doubts and fears to patient friends over the past couple of weeks. And it’s always a massive relief.

I have no time for temperamental writers who mutter their way through public events, resentful of the very readers who are buying their books and coming out through crappy, late-autumn nights to hear them mutter. But I get it. Or at least, I think I do. Confidence can be exhausting. Better to project, through sloppy clothes and a grumpy manner, that a show of … anything – is just not on the menu.

Sometimes it feels like the angry young men (now old men) trope is being replaced with that of the breathy young woman. I was young, at one point, but I never could get the dewy-eyed thing right. And – to put it delicately – that ship has sailed.

Come to think of it, I entered another coveted state – that of marriage – later than most people, and I was ambivalent about that, too. Not about the person I was marrying or the fact of getting married, but about people’s response to the event. There, too, I bit my tongue. My statistical chances of finding a mate at this advanced age drew comparisons to violence. Why shouldn’t everyone be happy for me?

Because what about all the time I spent on my own, before this? I was forty-three years old. Were all those years of life experience to be overshadowed by what a saleslady at The Bay called The Most Important Day of My Life? By the way, I’m still happily married, but the reason was encapsulated in my answer to that lady: “The wedding is less important than the marriage.

My desire to write fiction came over me in my thirties, right about the time when friends were having babies. Sitting down to do it felt so joyful and powerful that I thought it shouldn’t be allowed. The joy felt positively dangerous. But it also eluded me. It would hide away at the hint of any instability in my life, particularly when it came to the needs of others. It waited in the shadows, appearing – like a dear old friend – whenever I had a break. We’d pick up where we left off, as if no time had passed. And then it would disappear again.

I didn’t start consistently working on a novel until both my parents had died. I didn’t feel I could be who I was for them, and also let go, in the way that was necessary to write an extended work of fiction. I always wrote, but my family generated so much material that writing about anything else felt like a waste of time. Fiction took away energy from a precious and deeply intimidating legacy. But if this was a waste of time, I wanted to waste time, to create something other than the stories that had been left to me to sort and process. The Work grew slowly because it was willing to be deferred, to leave bigger and more important projects to take centre stage.

I hate sliding into the bookasbaby metaphor. (So sue me; I didn’t have them.) But it keeps presenting itself, and it can be useful sometimes.

For instance, what if The Work were a baby?

This book would be a modest and undemanding middle child. Not trumpeting her talents or demanding attention, always cleaning up her mess, helping to look after the other kids. This middle child might not be so keen on taking up space. It would be up to me to make space for her, encourage her to step confidently out into the world. And I would.

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BWS 13.11.19 report: “A Beginners Guide to Toronto Arts Council Literary Grants” with Catalina Fellay-Dunbar

Catalina Fellay-Dunbar

Catalina Fellay-Dunbar joined the Toronto Arts Council after many years as a dancer, writer, educator and arts advocate. Her professional dance experience, although varied, has long focused on a personal lineage in Flamenco and Classical Spanish dance.  Translating the experience of movement into words launched a parallel writing career as a contributor to journals, magazines and anthologies on the topics of dance, identity, and cultural policy. She loves her present role in the arts community as Dance and Literary Grants Manager for the TAC.

Catalina stopped by at our 10th anniversary event last week to share some of her grant writing tips for the Writers Program and the financial resources available to emerging and established writers.

TAC’s Literary Arts programs support the development of writing, reading series, festivals, performances and other literary activities in Toronto.

Through the Literary Program, the TAC provides Project funding to professional, non-profit, Toronto literary organizations and collectives to pursue one-time or time-limited literary projects involving production, presentation and other activities that contribute to the development of the literary arts in Toronto. 

Our Writers Program supports the creation of new literary works or works-in progress in the genres of fiction (including novels, short stories, children’s literature, graphic novels, etc.), literary non-fiction, poetry and oral traditions such as storytelling, dub, rap and spoken-word.

The program provides two levels of support for writers. The following fixed amounts are available:

LEVEL ONE: $5,000 – for writers in the early stages of their career.

LEVEL TWO: $10,000 – for writers with an established writing career.

For more detailed information regarding the Writers Program, please refer to the Writers Program Guidelines which will be made available 3 months before the deadline.

*Please note that the TAC Writers Program has once deadline per calendar year, usually in mid-June*

 The online Writers application consists of three sections:

  1. The applicant’s literary CV or biography uploaded in PDF format – maximum three pages. Please differentiate between items published via print or web. This section of the application will not be reviewed by the jury, but serves as your record of eligibility for TAC staff.
  2. The project description – maximum 500 words, entered into a text box in the online application. This section outlines the format, stage and scope of the project. Anonymity is required in this section.
  3. The writing sample support material – format details below. Anonymity is required in this section.

As the Literary Grants Manager at TAC, here are my 3 Top Grant Writing Tips:

  1.       Read the program guidelines on the TAC website.
  2.       Give yourself adequate time to complete the application before the deadline.
  3.       Follow the application instructions.

Most importantly, however, I encourage you to reach out to your Program Manager before applying if you are a first time applicant or if you have any questions throughout the process.

I promise you, we are all friendly here at TAC!

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BWS 13.11.19: Mary Rykov

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Puerto Rican-Canadian María (MaryHelena Auerbach Rykov is a writer, editor, educator, and recovering music therapist. She freelances as a writing mentor in multiple genres and proofreads for Pulp Literature Press. Her poetry collection, some conditions apply, hatches May 2020 with Inanna Publications. See more at maryrykov.com.

 

Reflections on Writing: What’s Your Score?

When the late, great writer and poet, David W. McFadden, won the 2014 Giller Prize for Excellence in Poetry for What’s the Score? (Mansfield, 2013), my first poetry manuscript was still out in left field without a literary home.

“David,” I asked, “what advice can you give me?”

“Just keep writing and sending them out.”

David was right. I kept writing and sending them out. Eventually, I scored. Seven years, twelve manuscript submissions (six full manuscripts, six excepts), and three title changes later, my debut poetry collection, some conditions apply, was placed with Inanna Publications for Spring 2020. Thank you, Luciana Ricciutelli, Publisher and Editor-in-Chief. What seems like a long wait is the necessary production schedule for most small presses that work with minimal staff on shoestring budgets for the love of literature. After seven long years wafting in the ethers of Submissionland, these three more years will pass quickly.

I share with you what I’ve learned about the submission process.

Know Why You Write

Writers write for many reasons. Reading and writing for me are inextricably linked. I write because I read, and I read because I write.

At the age of two I could recite the entire Tale of Peter Rabbit. By age five I was reciting the metered verse of A. A. Milne and choosing books with the children’s librarian. By age ten I wrote and illustrated my first fiction for my younger cousin on a folded piece of paper. It was about a bunny—a nod, of course, to my beloved Peter Rabbit—although not a plagiarized knock-off. Many writers, after all, learn to write by imitation.

Throughout public school I buried myself in books to avoid bullying from classmates. I was poor, poorly dressed, tiny, and easy to pick on. Mercifully, the children’s books in my piano teacher’s study compensated for the books I didn’t read under the controlling eyes of the wicked-witch-of-all-librarians at my junior public school.

In high school I wrote poetry and songs influenced by Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Buffy St. Marie, Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Richard Fariña, Ken Kesey, Allen Ginsberg, et. al., back in the early days of Margaret Atwood, CanLit, and CanCon before the internet. Sadly, my English teachers, although an improvement over grade school, were not stellar. Nor was I a diligent student.

In university I wrote research papers. I became a music therapist and wrote reports, proposals, and more research papers. I also wrote songs—many songs—throughout the 35-year tenure of my clinical music therapy practice. But the poetry in these songs was functionally pragmatic, not necessarily artistic.

I often turned to poetry and fiction as an antidote to the dry research I needed to read to keep up with my field. I didn’t write for art’s sake until much later. My first literary poems published in 2010. My first flash fiction and nonfiction prose published in 2016. I’ve snagged some awards for these literary efforts along the way.

But publication and prizes are not why I write. I realize I write because I have always written. And I always write in response to what I experience—what I think, see, read, hear, and feel. As a music therapist I needed to write research, journal articles, think pieces, proposals, and support letters advocating on behalf of patients and clients. Now I write for art’s sake.

Know Where You Submit and Why

Nothing gets accomplished without taking care of business. Much ink has gone into distinguishing between the art of writing and the business of writing [read: submitting]. The art of writing in the absence of the business of submission is equivalent to a story consisting of accumulated events with no plot or resolution.

Submit writing strategically. Know that journal editors and book publishers are people just like writers. Indeed, many are themselves writers and poets. If not writers or poets, they do love reading.

Read the journal and book publications where you plan to submit. Familiarize yourself with their editorial preferences. And pay attention to submission calls and the writing of guest editors. Submit where you want to join the conversation.

Submissions vary, typically comprising a cover letter and the writing content. Submission guidelines matter; read these carefully. Include in the cover letter all information requested, but be concise. Personalize your submission cover letter with positive comments about past issues or books you particularly enjoyed reading. Editors and publishers work slavishly and deserve support. I repeat: be concise.

Do not ask for or expect critique for the writing you submit to literary journals and publishing houses. They are far too busy to routinely provide feedback. Grow your writing skills in workshops and courses designed for this purpose. Be grateful, however, for any unsolicited advice and encouragement you do receive.

Submit writing that is ready for publication. I submitted my first poems and stories as I wrote them, which was premature. Few of these early [read: rudimentary, undeveloped] pieces of writing were published. These submissions did, however, stoke the coffers of Canada Post and some journals for reading fees.

Speaking of fees…

Reading submission fees for journals are increasingly more common. Writers must support the infrastructure of the literary arts by buying books, journals, and tickets to readings. I have bought my weight in books and subscriptions many times over. Sometimes, however, I must rotate subscriptions amongst my favourite journals or cannot afford them at all. Sometimes I cant submit when a reading or contest fee is required. Understandably, I win few prizes. I do the best I can.

But do as I say, not as I do. Do pay reading and contest submission fees if you can. Subscribe and donate to your favourite journals and literary reading series and festivals. They all need your support.

Help other writers by pointing out potential submission opportunities. Help them, and they will help you in kind.

Rejection Happens

Embrace Margaret Atwood’s boast that she could wallpaper her office with the rejection notices she received. Rejection is an inevitable consequence of submitting. Consider your writing submissions as your personal lottery ticket, one that you have a chance of winning only if you submit. Consider rejection as an opportunity to re-submit.

An experiential conference workshop with dance therapist Judith Koltai-Peavy enlightened me. She instructed us to prance around the room to energetic music, greeting everyone we encountered with Hi, do you want to play with me? to which we respond Yes! After an improvised dance, we move on to repeat this interchange with the next person. We were subsequently directed to respond No! when asked if we wanted to play, to which the seeker responds Okay! and gleefully dances to the next person. I realize with this exercise that rejection needn’t be hurtful and that seeking with a playful spirit matters more.

Journal editors carefully curate each issue. Your writing must fit the tenor of the journal generally, as well as be a good fit with the other writing in any single journal issue. Rejection doesn’t mean your submission is unworthy, but it may be a poor fit for a particular editorial vision.

So, what’s a good fit?

Publication is a quirky, whimsical, and mercurial process. Almost nonsensical. Here’s just how capricious this process can be. A journal accepted one poem I sent from amongst a submission of five poems. When marking the acceptance in my records, I noticed the very same poem was amongst another submission of five poems I had sent to the same journal one year earlier. Seriously. The very same poem that was accepted for publication was rejected by the same journal the year before. Go figure.

Don’t give up. Regardless of the writing genre, embrace David McFadden’s advice to “just keep writing and sending them out.” This task is part of the business of writing.

Celebrate Acceptance

Publication, like punctuation, is where writing logically ends.

Acceptance brings credibility, affirmation, and welcome monetary compensation (however small) to offset the high cost of printer ink. Savour each acceptance, but don’t rest on your laurels. Don’t stop writing and submitting.

When publication entails a process of editorial back-and-forth and final page proofs, welcome this opportunity to work with the editor, knowing he or she has experience with many writers. Embrace this close scrutiny of your work. Consider the suggestions offered.

Acknowledge all success without falling prey to jealousy. Celebrate your success and the successes of all the writers you know. We’re all in this together.

What’s Your Score?

Seven years since writing for art’s sake, here’s how my numbers crunched as of June 2017 when my manuscript was finally placed.

Rejections:

67 journals rejected 476 poems (some simultaneous), 1 short story, and 1 essay; 11 publishers rejected various iterations of 1 poetry manuscript

Published or Forthcoming:

23 poems in 3 anthologies and 8 journals; 2 flash fiction in 2 journals; 2 essays in 2 journals; 1 poetry collection

Active Submissions:

35 poems (some simultaneous) to 13 journals; 1 short story to 3 journals; 1 nonfiction book proposal

I invite you to tally your score and embrace the reality check. Better still, Merlin Homer (David’s widow) suggests engaging in friendly competition amongst your writer friends to see who can accumulate the most rejection notices one year from when you begin. Try it.

With a heartfelt thanks to David McFadden, let’s all keep writing and sending them out.

 

Mary Rykov visits Brockton Writers Series on Wednesday, November 13, 2019 at Glad Day Bookshop, 499 Church Street, Toronto, starting at 6:30pm (PWYC) alongside Andrea Thompson, Deepa Rajagopalan, a special surprise guest, and guest speaker Catalina Fellay-Dunbar who will guide us through, “ A Beginners Guide to Toronto Arts Literary Grants.” 

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